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BPM Special Report: What you model is what you monitor

Business analysts and other line-of-business role players may increasingly build the models for new-generation Business Process Management applications. In some instances, good BPM modeling results help make the business case for SOA. Still, some 'assembly' is still required by development teams.

Are BPM modeling tools at the point that what business users see on their monitoring dashboards is what they originally asked for in the requirements stage?

"That's the ideal," says Neil Ward-Dutton, research director, Macehiter Ward-Dutton. He sees BPM modeling tools for business analysts, developers, and even non-technical business users now able to achieve as much as 80 percent of that goal. However, reaching what Ward-Dutton terms BPM modeling "nirvana" may remain more of an ultimate goal than a day-to-day reality.

In a play on the old WYSIWYG user interface acronym, the BPM modeling goal is now sometimes referred to as "What you model is what you monitor." In some instances, good BPM modeling results help make the business case for SOA.

Ken Vollmer, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said: "The way it works is what they model in the modeling phase is exactly what gets monitored. That is the process that gets monitored by end users."

Ward-Dutton sees new tools emerging that give the end users a chance to model their own business processes on what he terms "an electronic white board." That preliminary end-user model then passes via repository first to business analysts for refined modeling and then developers for the finished modeling and coding of the application.

Then in the best case scenarios the business end users see the results in data that is both meaningful and useful to them.

Helps business case for SOA
The final dashboard display is critical to the success of BPM and service-oriented architecture projects, says Roy Schulte, vice president of Gartner, because that is where the business sees the benefits of BPM, SOA and complex event processing (CEP).

"The business person may sit beside the business analyst while they are mapping out the business process but that's at development time," Schulte said. "At runtime, the business user doesn't see SOA or BPM. What they do see is dashboards. They are seeing key performance indicators [KPIs] displayed."

Ward-Dutton agrees that the business users know little if anything about the Web services and the service-oriented applications that may be providing sales data to their dashboards, but they know KPIs when they see them on their screen.

Schulte says that giving the business users what they want on the screen goes a long way to making the business case for SOA, BPM and CEP implementations that may otherwise seem arcane to business managers and executives.

"In a lot of cases business people are willing to authorize the development project because they're going to get the dashboard or the situation awareness," Schulte explained. "So they say, 'Okay, if that's what I'm getting, I'll pay for it.' Then that drags in SOA and BPM. Because to actually do this you have to change the backend applications and you want to refurbish some of the infrastructure. So this is helping to drive SOA and business process."

That is why the approach of getting the users into the modeling stage is a critical step toward "What You Model Is What You Monitor" nirvana.

"There are more and more tools available to get business users involved in the activity of describing the problem, describing the solution and being much more integral to the process of building the solution," Ward-Dutton said.

Available tools have moved beyond the manual process where business analysts went out among the cubicles with a clipboard to find out what business users wanted, he said.

"We're seeing much more tooling that brings business users into the process and capture requirements and ideas into a model that can then be refined," Ward-Dutton said. "Then you've got dashboards at the backend that map back to those original scenarios."

Ward-Dutton sees innovation in BPM modeling coming from pure play vendors such as Lombardi Software, the Austin, Texas-based BPM vendor, with it's Blueprint tool for documenting processes.

"It's like a graphical wiki," Ward-Dutton explains. "It enables people who are not specialists – business people – to draw boxes and lines to help get their heads around processes and communicate that to more technical process people. That can then be taken into the mainstream tool for the business analyst and the process analyst and then to IT."

An example of an innovative BPM tool for developers is Vitria Technology Inc.'s M3O Suite, said Forrester's Vollmer. M3O was ranked this fall as a leader in Forrester's Wave ratings for Integration-Centric BPM Suites.

More on BPM
Vitria iPod model for BPM

Vitria describes M3O as "a complete business process and event management suite that enables enterprises to model, manage, monitor and optimize their processes to meet business challenges."

Vollmer describes it as "an iPod for developers."

"It's got a really slick interface," he explained. "It's aimed at IT workers but a lot of the interaction with it you'd think you were on an iPod."

Since these modeling tools for either business or IT or both are relatively new, analysts say it may be a year or more before they are in widespread use.

Gartner's Schulte also sees innovations coming to business user dashboard's which he predicts will be increasing customize-able for end users as SOA and BPM in the backend integrate application silos.

Application-specific dashboards
"Right now, the limitation is that dashboards are mostly stovepipes," he said. "So you'll have somebody doing a supply management system and they'll have a dashboard. But the same person that sees that dashboard may also want to see the budgeting that's on another dashboard. The problem is the dashboards are application specific. And what you'd like them to be is person specific."

Making dashboards "person specific" becomes another argument for the SOA business case.

If the applications, such as supply management and budgeting, are in silos, developers have two options in Schulte's view. They can work on ways to get the data from the two applications to both feed into the same dashboard. Or they can integrate the different systems so information from the applications flows to the dashboard seamlessly.

"Ideally what you would want is to integrate data from several different sources across several applications and show them all simultaneously on the same dashboard, especially if there are logical connections between the data," Schulte said. "You'd like the dashboard to crunch that and show a single view of the information."

As is true of other ideals related to "What You See Is What You Monitor," this one is a ways from becoming reality. Developer skills are still an issue here.

For more information
Roy Schulte on the BPM drive and SOA adoption

Business-side often drives BPM initiatives today

"Some people are doing a good job," Schulte said. "But most people aren't doing it yet. So most dashboards today are only showing data from one application. It's early days. And there aren't enough people who know how to do it."

BPM modeling speeds messages
The visual element in BPM is beginning to show dividends. Using visual orchestration tool for BPM in a complex environment an industrial distribution company has been able to speed inventory tracking for 2,100 stores. The company, Fastenal, used Active Endpoint's ActiveVOS visual orchestration tool to link Web services and set up the business processes. "Once you understand the principles of service-oriented architecture, it's easy to use ActiveVOS to deploy new services," Adam Swift, integration developer for the BPM order tracking system at Fastenal, told "Business process can be created with drag-and-drop."

For its part, telecomm giant Verizon used a Business Process Execution Language-driven (BPEL-driven) modeling interface from Oracle to cut down on coding and check for fraud. Verizon Wireless is using Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) to create a BPM application with a rules engine to study call patterns. Using Oracle BPEL Manager the developers reduced the lines of Java code from the previous app while providing Verizon's fraud detection team with alerts to possible nefarious activities.

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